The Power of the Fleeting Smile

Lori - St. Louis, Missouri
Entered on February 26, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

Does it truly take fewer muscles to smile than to frown? A quick Internet search reveals that the experts, from plastic surgeons to psychologists, don’t agree on the actual number of muscles required. But what’s compelling is that enough of us want to believe that smiling is easier, and therefore preferable, that this often-encountered saying is a kind of majority goodwill.

A January night – it’s eight degrees Fahrenheit, and there aren’t many souls out perambulating. My dog stops between the sidewalk and the curb. As I wait for her to finish, feeling somewhat disgruntled, I look up at a passing car with a bemused smile. From the layers of my wooly hat and hood, my eyes meet with the smile of a woman in the passenger’s seat. We’re only feet away from one another. And somehow in those few seconds, I recognize a warmth of understanding. Perhaps she’s a fellow dog owner who knows we just don’t disallow our dogs their routine, any more than we’d lock the restroom door as we left it and the next bar patron approached. We domesticated these wonderful creatures, and we owe them their walks. But eight degrees is cold. And when I look up and meet the smile in that car window, I feel warmer and my endeavor seems more worthwhile.

That’s all it takes: a fleeting smile.

I sometimes think I’m a fool for smiling too much. In the hallways where I teach, on the first day when uncertainty hangs about like bad perfume, I smile. In the grocery store right before a predicted snow storm, I smile at someone next to me in the soup aisle, acknowledging our collective effort to be prepared. Or near a holiday when we shoppers feverishly search for the perfect gift at the last moment and in spite of our sagging finances, a small smile gives a nod to a common plight. And when I’m met with a return smile, it definitely feels as though some of the weightiness that pulls the corners of our mouths downward lightens; everyday tasks take on more meaning and occasionally a kind of beauty.

So I’ll continue to believe it takes fewer muscles to smile, knowing the energy generated might even be exponential. There’s always the potential to meet with a returned and random fleeting smile that warms me, even on a night when it’s eight degrees.